How to Write for Television (When You Have Never Written for Television)

If you want to concept TV commercials, you’ve got to start with premises. Do not write scripts. Let me explain…

Forever ago, I did a summer internship at GSD&M in Austin, Texas. I was in between semesters at the VCU Adcenter (before it was the Brandcenter), and I was excited not only to be at an agency that had been all over the award annuals, but to be partnered with a classmate of mine who was a fantastic art director. It was going to be a very good summer.

That first week, we were given a chance to write TV commercials for Chili’s. Yes, the Chili’s of Baby Back Rib fame. Our first year in school, we had worked on lots of print campaigns, but had never worked on TV. (This is before digital was even a thing. Web banners weren’t even a thing. Like I said, this was forever ago.)

So we sat down and spent days concepting. We came up with a story about an Amish boy. We had another one about a kung fu master and his disciples. We had one shot from the point of view of a bird. And we crafted each script in detail. We argued over dialogue for hours. I thought the Amish boy should say, “Yea, verily,” because it sounded funny and biblical. My art director thought he should say, “Even so, mother,” because it made more sense. This went on for days.

Finally, we brought five or six scripts in to our creative director. Who killed them all. Welcome to advertising.

So we came up with five or six more scripts. And we agonized over dialogue and descriptions. Again, we showed them to our creative director. Nothing.

We were feeling disappointed and a little bit of pressure because we knew that the interns VCU sent to this agency the year before had actually produced a commercial for Pennzoil. That’s insane. Summer interns producing a TV commercial? But it happened. And we wanted it to happen for us, too.

But it never did. We had a fun summer. But we produced nothing. (To be fair, the idea that interns would produce anything other than spec work is a little unrealistic. But we didn’t know that.)

On the last day of our internship, our creative director gave us an evaluation. And we were shocked to hear that it wasn’t so hot. He said we came in with five or six scripts a week. According to him, the team that had produced the Pennzoil spot last year came in with 100 ideas the day after they were briefed. Maybe 100 was an exaggeration. But it was certainly more than five.

It took me the better part of my career to learn that there is a difference between writing premises and writing scripts.

A premise is a short two to three sentence blurb about what the spot’s about.

A script is a crafted document that tells you exactly what happens in the commercial.

A premise is loose.

A script is tight.

You can write 100 premises in a day.

It might take you an entire afternoon to write a decent script.

A premise is something you jot down as a potential idea.

A script is an idea you begin to craft.

So if you have the chance to write TV scripts. Don’t just start writing TV scripts. That’s like crafting the body copy for a marker comp. Start with a premise. And then come up with another. And another. And another.

An Interview with Andrew LeVasseur, Head of Experience Design at VCU Brandcenter

At the VCU Brandcenter’s annual recruiter session, there’s a small group of tinkerers and builders and mad scientists who sit in the same room as art directors and copywriters, but kind of off to the side. Instead of ads, their tables are littered with drones and robots, hacked toys and games, tablets with app prototypes. Tangible things, things they’ve actually built. They are a new breed, a new creature in the industry. Until now, they’ve been called Creative Technologists.

I love talking to them about their work. I have a whole different set of questions than when I talk with the art directors and copywriters. Things like “What the hell is this?” “How’s it work?” “How did you make it?” “What’s this button do?” “Have you patented it?” And, usually in the back of my mind, “Wow, is this even advertising?”

This track—Creative Technology—has just been renamed Experience Design. We caught up with Andrew LeVasseur, the head of the Creative Technology/Experience Design track to get his take on VCU Brandcenter’s approach to technology and user experience, the future of the program and the reason for the name change. 

 

What’s your background? 
I have worked for top agencies like Razorfish (Seattle) and The Martin Agency (Richmond).  I have also launched and helped grow multiple start-up companies. My brand credits include Barclays, Best Buy, Capella University, Capitol One, Harrahs Entertainment, Hawaiian Airlines, Holland America, Microsoft, Michelin – BFGoodrich, Verizon FiOS, Weight Watchers, among others.
My focus areas include brand strategy, user experience design, information architecture, interaction design, software, information systems and process design, technology and new media, applied research and analytics.

What’s your role at the Brandcenter? 
I joined the VCU Brandcenter as an adjunct in 2009 where I played a large role in establishing the Creative Technology track (a precursor to the Experience Design track). As head of the Experience Design track, I help shape the vision, curriculum and course content.  As a professor, I teach multiple courses focused on strategy, design and technology.

Why the name change from Creative Technology to Experience Design? 
The Creative Technology track has successfully been in operation for 6 years and the name “Creative Technology” has served a specific purpose for the times we were in.  We’re renaming the track to better align with the direction of the industry, the career opportunities for our students, and to reflect more specifically the titles and roles our graduates are assuming in business. 
So what does an Experience Design student do? 
Experience Design students concept, design, prototype and build ‘experiences’ that push the envelope of what is technologically possible.

While at the VCU Brandcenter, Experience Design Students will:

  • ·       Study new and emerging user participation platforms like digital, social, mobile, and experiential (IoT). 
  • ·       Identify new and imaginative ways for brands to engage with users across platforms. 
  • ·       Design ads, interfaces, apps, wearables, robots, flying machines…things yet to be imagined.
  • ·       Balance strategic, tactical and technical project demands to bring ideas to life in both form and function.

Here is the Fall 2015 Course List:

Semester 1: Business of Branding, Creative Thinking, User Experience Design, Physical Computing 1

Semester 2: Strategy & Design, User Participation Platforms, Visual Storytelling

Semester 3: Creating Gravitational Pull, Experimentation, Physical Computing 2

Semester 4: Innovation, Persuasion, Indivituation

 

What kind of people are you looking for in Experience Design? 
We accept students from very diverse backgrounds and believe that the more variety in experience, capabilities and skills make for richer collaborative design.  That said, we want students who have a passion for business, design and technology, and who are: 
Culturally-Curious/Tech-Forward:  Are you fascinated by the world around you and the impact of
technology and new media on culture and people?
Creative Problem Solvers: Do you see challenges as design opportunities and have the capacity to
find creative design solutions? 
Interdisciplinary: Do you possess a combination of business, design, and technology
experience?  But want to develop a deep specialization and practice in experience design. 
Productive Team Members:  Do you welcome new ideas and play well with others? 
Thinkers + Makers: Are you equally comfortable developing concept, design, and prototypes?  
Strategic, Tactical and Technical: Can you address the strategic, tactical and technical challenges
that come with any complex design project?
If this sounds like you, we’re still accepting applications for Fall 2015
How about the students graduating. Can you describe their skills?

Breadth and Depth. You’ve heard it before, but the industry requires talent that gets the big picture, but also brings something unique and differentiated to the creative exercise.  We focus on developing talent that has strong foundation in concept and craft.  Dependent on their unique ambition and interests, our students also develop an area of specialization while at the VCU Brandcenter. For some XDs, it is user-centered design and related UX disciplines (UI, IA, IxD, Front end-development).  While others are passionate about concepting, designing, building and trialing new experiences that push the envelope of what is technologically possible.  While other students are focused on the production of dynamic multimedia content for new environments.  There are so many emerging opportunities out there, that we leave it up to our students to shape their own views and invent their own visions of the future.   

See the portfolios of current Experience Design students and the current student showcase.

 

Where are some of your graduates working today? 
Since we started, we have placed upwards of 100 CT/XDsOur graduates are in high demand and have gone on to work in the top agencies, client-side, and in successful start-up companies.  They work for global brands, on award-winning work, and some have been recognized as leaders in our industryOur graduates operate under multiple titles in the industry (and this is a good thing).   

 

Any predictions on where this track is going? 
This track is uniquely positioned within our curriculum to be looking upward and outward to what is new and next. What are the trends impacting our industry, where might we experience disruption, how does that point to new opportunities for brands, and what capabilities and skills will we need to develop to lead the creative industry?  That is why we will need to constantly evolve, question our assumptions, and expand our base of knowledge and ability.  It is also the same reason we are hard to define.  That might not be a bad thing after all.
In the spirit of change, I’d love to hear from you. alevasseur@vcu.edu

 

 

The VCU Brandcenter Master’s program, part of VCU’s School of Business, has been recognized by Creativity Magazine, the 4A’s, Ad Age and BusinessWeek as a top graduate program in advertising, marketing, digital media, and design + business.  

The Brandcenter is known within the advertising industry for its intensity, and the students who graduate from the program earn valuable real life experience to develop brands on a global scale. 

The VCU Brandcenter is more than a portfolio school. Students earn a Master’s of Science in business that complements their portfolio of work. This portfolio could contain ad campaigns. It will definitely contain strategically thought out and creatively conceived solutions to business problems. Brandcenter students concentrate in one of the five tracks. They study within their given track, as well as collaborate with all tracks on team projects that culminate in presentations to their faculty, peers and often real world clients.

 

 

VCU Brandcenter launches Experience Design Track

Whenever I go to the VCU Brandcenter’s recruiter session, I get so inspired when I talk to the Creative Technologists. They make some crazy-cool stuff. Tangible, with real-world applications. To be honest, the thought has crossed my mind… “Dang, I should go back to school and learn to do what these cats are learning.”

So it’s exciting to hear the news that the CT track is evolving. It will now be called Experience Design. The curriculum concentrates on the conception, design, prototyping and building of brand experiences  – pushing the envelope on what is technologically possible.

From the Brandcenter:

“We are experience designers.  We dream things.  We make things.  We break things.  And then, we do it again.  We don’t define ourselves by the things that we make.  We do define ourselves by how those things make others think and feel and act. That is why, on any given day you might find us making any number of things:  ads, interfaces, apps, wearables, robots, flying machines, … whatever it takes.”

Last year’s students were in high demand. They will continue to be so as agencies and brands see their increased value. Students interned and were hired by companies like Coca-Cola, The Barbarian Group, BBH, The Martin Agency, AKQA, Deutsch LA, and R/GA, to name a few.

 The track is run by Andrew Levasseur. Here’s what he has to say about it.

If you’re interested, here’s some more info. This is without a doubt where the industry is headed. It’s not surprising to see the school one step ahead.

Keep your eyes open, be jealous and define your own insight.

[This is a special guest post from VCU Brandcenter’s Caley Cantrell. Caley is Professor of Communications Strategy.This is another in a series of guest posts from Brandcenter faculty.]

I don’t blog much. Not for lack of things to write about. But for lack of sheer discipline. So joining in on someone else’s blog seems pretty delicious! Many thanks to Greg and Jim.
If I can offer advice to folks who might want to be account planners or strategic planners or brand planners (don’t get me started on titles) it would be these three things:
1. Keep your eyes open.
2. Be jealous.
3. Define your own insight.
Keep your eyes open.The world is full of things that are important for a strategist to be aware of. So much so that large parts of my classes, if not all my classes, are somehow bound to things I find in the newspaper, hear on NPR, or past students send me. Advertising and marketing do not exist and cannot succeed in a bubble. You must know the state of the economy. You should worry about the continuing digital divide. Buy movie tickets and see the movies when everyone is chatting about them. Don’t always wait for Xfinity.
Please don’t let your eyes be focused only on “what the consumer cares about.” Back in the day, the job of the account planner was “to be the voice of the consumer.” I don’t know about you, but consumers have voice now and they are screaming. If you don’t believe me, visit Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, blogs – you get the point. Anyway, study business. Study what models are sustainable, what models are failing and what models the jury is still out on.
Be jealous. If jealousy and envy are synonyms, that means jealousy is one of the 7 deadly sins. I hate to be recommending that anyone purposefully sin – but damn it to Hell – that’s what I’m going to do. When I go to a conference and hear a great speaker or watch a student presentation and think to myself “Whoa! They really nailed It.” or “How elegantly simple.” it’s a compliment that means I’m a little jealous. I wish I’d said that. I wish I’d done that. And in the case of a student, I’m pretty proud they did it. As a planner, being jealous of other planners makes me work harder. Tell a better story. Define a problem more clearly.
Define your insight. Someone I’m a bit jealous of is Farrah Bostic and because some say that people in planning, or advertising in general, have the magpie mind, I’m going to drag a shiny bit from Farrah to my nest and this post. Farrah has a great blog and posted about insights in a piece entitled “There are not such things asinsights.” Farrah is spot on. You don’t just “find” insights. Or as I tell Brandcenter folks, “insights are not sea shells that you collect while walking on the beach.” Googling faster and harder does not get you to insights.
I will also borrow from the good folks at The Challenger Project who talk about “fat words.” Fat words are ones we throw around and at each other so often that they become bloated with symbolic overuse and lose any real meaning. “Insight” has become such a word and I worry often about removing it from my syllabi forever.
So I’m going to take and define a new “I” word. INTEREST. What is of interest in this problem? What is interestingabout how people live their lives? Can you create a conversation between a brand and a person by revealing a common interest
This “I” stuff is probably getting a little annoying right about now. So I’ll get to the point in my agreement with Farrah. An insightful person will realize that the really interesting bit of the assignment is reframing the problem. It is interpreting the difference between what people say and what they do. Your work should be illuminating from beginning to end – not just on the page with the bold title “INSIGHTS.”

WORK
[Special guest post from WORK’S Cabell Harris]
This is the second in a series of guests posts from faculty at the VCU Brandcenter. Call us biased (we’re both alums), but we’re consistently blown away by the thinking coming out of that school. So we’ve invited faculty members to contribute content to Makin’ Ads. This is a guest post from Cabell Harris, former long-time teacher at the VCU Brandcenter. It is from his contribution to the book The Next Level “How to get ready for that first job in Advertising, Branding, CRM, Digital, Events, and More”
One of the major tasks for those looking to establish themselves in a creative career is understanding current professional standards – both the quality that is demanded and, simply put, how hard you have to work. Cabell Harris, has a company called WORK in Richmond, VA. He calls it “an agency for agencies.” Cabell has established his credentials with outstanding work and, rumor has it, outstanding work habits. Here are his words to the wise on this important topic.
 
Let’s roll up our shirtsleeves, grab another cup of coffee and get to work.
You are probably well aware that our little agency, WORK, is not counted among the mega-agencies in the modern advertising world.  That suits me just fine. I have had the opportunity to work for many of the larger agencies in either a full-time capacity or as a freelance resource. As a result, I have a wealth of valuable insight into what works and what doesn’t at the places where you’re looking for work.
The good news. My valuable advice is free – or, more accurately, included in the price of this book. The bad news. Free advice is often worth what you pay for it.
Nonetheless, here are a few of my observations.
1.  Any agency that does good work or has done good work has a strong Creative Principle who has led by example. Think about it.
2.  If you want to see what work is going on in an Agency go to the studio. Whether it’s new business, research, planning, pitching or executing it’s moving through the studio. The best agencies have well-run studios.
3.  Large agencies often are encumbered by internal processes/approvals which make it very difficult to work quickly and efficiently.
4.  The business has changed from problem solving to opportunity seeking.
5.  The companies that spend the longest amount of time on process do the worst work.
6.  Every agency I believe has the same process, they just come up with different answers.
Who are you talking to?
o The audience
What do you want to tell them?
o The strategy
How do you tell them?
o The creative
   Where do you tell them?
o The media
Was it effective?
o The results
7.  You can find some very talented people in bad agencies. They just may not have the personalities or the opportunities that get them noticed. Or, perhaps, their goodness may be directed elsewhere. Perhaps they are good parents, or they make a truly exceptional vinaigrette dressing.
8.  All the great agencies have work that comes out of their doors that would shock you by how bad it is. Well, at least in the early years you may be shocked. Then, sad to say you are no longer surprised. Disappointed but not surprised.
9.  Egos are important for getting the job done. You must believe you can do the work. You must believe you can sell the work. Ultra egos make enemies ultra fast. But don’t leave your ego at the door. Bring it.
10.     The inexperienced individual will immediately argue and defend their one idea. Why? Because they are not confident they can come up with another. Experienced professionals will do what they can to protect good thinking but know they are capable of many solutions.
By far the most important difference I have found in companies or individuals is “Work Ethic.” I have often said that I would rather hire someone with a strong Work Ethic than talent. I have seen too many individuals with talent and potential be surpassed by one who is not easily satisfied and will just keep working.
I was going to stop there, but realized I needed to do a bit more work. So here are a few useful thoughts on the topic of work.
It’s 5:01pm.
Your boss is out of town. You are still at your desk. Why?
OK. This is important. Your real boss isn’t the person with the company car. It’s the person staring back at you in the mirror each morning. You understand a job isn’t what you do, but how you do it. Your DNA has a strand dedicated to the work ethic. It’s an ingrained code of accountability that can never be instilled through any employee video, seminar or retreat. You are wired with a commitment to what you know to be true. And your boss is looking over his shoulder.
Your job isn’t as important as you think it is.
Your work, however, is an entirely different matter.
You are not defined by a job description. You are not defined by the title on your business card. And you are most certainly not defined by your location on the management chart. No. You are defined by the effort and pride that you put into your work. A job is why the floor gets scrubbed. Work is why it is clean enough to eat off of. Do not confuse your job with your work. It is much too important.
 Where do you keep your work ethic?
It can be on the end of a mop handle or the end of a scalpel. Work doesn’t care. Work only cares about what’s important; doing the job the right way. Work doesn’t go for fancy slogans. An honest day’s work for an honest day’s wages is all it needs to hear. Work is hard-nosed. It will not be seated in the latest get-rich-quick seminar. Work doesn’t want to be your friend. Work doesn’t want to be glad-handed or slapped on the back. Work wants something much more important: your respect.
A job will behave like a job until told differently.
What is your job? To sell insurance or paint houses or market pharmaceuticals? You know better. Do not allow your job description to dictate what you do. Your real job is to challenge the expected. To give the conventional way of thinking a swift kick in the shin. Make your job more than anyone has ever imagined it could be. Too many jobs are content to sit in the easy chair and fall asleep in front of the television. Make today the day you give your job a wake-up call.
Is white-collar money more valuable than blue-collar money?
Money isn’t a true measurement of anything that’s important. A $100 bill is a $100 bill. It represents nothing more than its face value. Whether it was earned by someone sitting in a corner office on the 62nd floor in Manhattan or someone repairing railroad track in Wyoming. The true value of money comes from how it was earned. Was it acquired by cutting corners? Or by coming in early and staying late? Money doesn’t care. But you do. And that makes all the difference.
Do you still work as hard when no one is watching?
How hard you work isn’t a function of anyone looking over your shoulder. It is a matter of pride. Knowing that when your job is done, it will be done right. That is the beauty of this responsibility called work. It isn’t so much a job as it is a philosophy. A code shared by everyone who has ever dug a ditch, worked on an assembly line, or written a sales report. There is no secret handshake that bonds us. Just a feeling of the right way vs. the half-assed way. You know what camp you’re in.
Many young men and women dream of a career as a WORK employee. 
WORK is a place where people want to work – and it’s a well-earned reputation.  WORK’s door is always open to those who can meet the test that each one of us had to pass.  Those who make the grade can never say: “This is a dull, uninteresting life.”  WORK is always on the lookout in colleges, universities and “advertising schools” for young men and women who believe they have what it takes.  It is only fair to warn the prospect that a career at WORK is not for those who want an easy, sheltered life, just as the Marine Corps is not a place for anyone who is not ready to fight when called upon to do so. 
There is always danger in the pursuit of good advertising.  The hours can be long and draining.  The code of conduct is stern and demands more than some are willing to give.  The rewards often vary between slim and none. But at WORK, good work is its own reward. It’s kind of a 24/7 kind of thing.
Being a WORK man or woman has its rewards.  We are proud of the, as the French say, esprit de corps that exists at WORK.  Ours is a closely-knit, “team” organization.   Every member has clearly defined duties as well as a personal responsibility to his or her comrades.  If you believe you are one of those special few who can make the grade, take some time to send me an e-mal Cabell@worklabs.comThank you.
OK, everybody. Back to work.

How to Pick a Portfolio School – updated July 17, 2015

[SPECIAL GUEST POST FROM THE VCU BRANDCENTER’S ASHLEY SOMMARDAHL.]


Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts about portfolio schools. As Director of Student Affairs for the VCU Brandcenter, my POV may be a bit biased but hopefully some of this advice will be helpful. I’ll start by saying a few quick things about the VCU Brandcenter (I can’t help myself!) and then I’ll focus on portfolio schools in general.


The first thing our faculty, students, and alums will tell you about that Brandcenter is that we don’t consider ourselves to be a portfolio school. The Brandcenter is a comprehensive graduate advertising program focused on creativity, commerce (remember, advertising is a business!), collaboration, and culture. We have five tracks (Copywriting, Art Direction, Strategy, Creative Brand Management, and Experience Design), and while the students work together in cross-functional teams, each student develops an expertise in his/her individual track. Assignments at the Brandcenter are as realistic and practical as possible including actual “real world” assignments from companies like Google, Barnes & Noble, Audi, and HBO who’ve asked Brandcenter students to work on some of their most challenging marketing issues. Students are supervised by full-time faculty who’ve all had successful careers as Creative Directors, Planning Directors, Agency Presidents, Designers, Directors, and Editors. Most of our faculty members continue to work or consult in their field in addition to teaching. Brandcenter students earn a Master of Science degree in Business/Branding from Virginia Commonwealth University. Our students tell us the Master’s degree is important to them, more for the long-term, as it may give them an advantage if they choose to take on management roles or teach at the college level in the future. All of that said, the VCU Brandcenter is often included in the portfolio school “category” b/c all of our students (brand management, strategy, creative, and experience design) graduate with portfolios that showcase their strategic and creative thinking abilities. Our copywriters and art directors are often competing for jobs against graduates of Miami Ad School, Creative Circus, Chicago Portfolio School, and Portfolio Center. So, if you’re thinking about attending one of these schools, here are the questions I would ask each portfolio school you apply to (and if they don’t have the answers, that’s a red flag!)


QUESTIONS TO ASK OF PORTFOLIO SCHOOLS YOU ARE APPLYING TO: 
Answers for the VCU Brandcenter are below each question so you’ve got one school’s answers already! 


1.) What is your school’s job placement rate? (That’s why you’re going back to school, right? Most students go to a portfolio school to get a job in advertising vs. to continue on with a Ph.D in advertising.)
The VCU Brandcenter’s job placement rate is consistently 97% within 6 months of graduation. Here’s a more detailed breakdown of job placement rate using the Class of 2015 as an example. For reference, they graduated on May 9, 2015.
Job placement by graduation (May 9) = 25%
Job placement by June 1st = 56%
Job placement by July 1st = 83%

2.)  Can I see a list of where your most recent grads got jobs? (It’s important to see which agencies/companies currently recruit from the school. Who will be recruiting YOU when it’s time for you to graduate?)
Here’s a list of where the VCU Brandcenter Class of 2015 is getting jobs. All of the best agencies are on the list but it’s also important to note that brands like Facebook, Apple, Google, IBM, Coca-Cola, Capital One, Nike, etc. are also recruiting Brandcenter students and alums.

3.) What does the school do to help students get jobs? (Your portfolio/work is important but so are the connections your school has to the industry.)
The Brandcenter hosts a Recruiter Session event each April for recruiters to come meet our graduating students. Over the past 5 years, we’ve consistently had 200+ recruiters from the best agencies in the country attend our event. That’s more than a 2:1 ratio of recruiters to students! Check out who attended in April. 

4.) Can I see the portfolios of your most recent grads? (Look at the “end product” of your investment. Check out the graduates’ portfolios. Are you impressed by their work? Are you envious of their  portfolios? Hopefully, the answer is “yes!”)

5.) What does the school do to help students get summer internships? (I’m sure most grad programs talk about internships, but how many curate the opportunities and facilitate the application process for you?)
During the summer between the 1st and 2nd year of the Brandcenter program, the school facilitates PAID internships at some of the best agencies/ companies all over the US.  We curate all the available opportunities and our students can search the opportunities by agency/company, location or job title.  You can see where the Class of 2016 is interning this summer here. Internships are a great way to apply what you learned in school in the real world and make valuable industry connections. 

6.)  Who are your faculty? (How many of them are full-time vs. adjuncts who have other full-time jobs? How many of them actually worked and/or continue to work in our industry?)



7.)  Do you have salary data for your alums? (You are making a huge investment in yourself and the school you choose to attend. What’s the ROI (return on investment) going to be?)

8.) Why do recruiters and creative directors say they like to hire graduates from your school? (What recruiters and CDs think about the school is important. They are the “gatekeepers” to your dream job.)

9.) Do you stay engaged with your alumni? (Again, grad school is an investment so make sure you choose one that will “pay dividends” long after you’ve graduated.)
Your relationship with the VCU Brandcenter doesn’t end when you graduate. Being that we are a small, elite program, we stay in close touch with our alums. And, our alums stay in close touch with each other helping one another interview, network, etc. We keep a job postings board for our alums so they have access to the newest job openings from agencies and companies all over the world. We also feature the work our alums are doing and we share their work and accolades with our industry contacts.  Check out a few of these recent projects from our alums.

10.) Why do so many Brandcenter alums end up marrying each other? 
I have no idea but it’s one of my favorite “statistics” about our students/alums. We always joke that we should make our recruiting strategy something like, “Come to the Brandcenter to get an amazing portfolio and job + find your soulmate.” 





Makinads is an amazing resource so keep reading what these guys have to say. You may also want to check out books like Pick Me (by Nancy Vonk and Janet Kestin) and Hey Whipple, Squeeze This (by Luke Sullivan) and Breaking In: How to Build a Portfolio that Will Get You Hired (by Burks Spencer.) Good luck to all of you as you pursue careers in advertising! Hopefully, I’ll see some of you at the VCU Brandcenter one day!

Ashley Sommardahl
VCU Brandcenter / Director of Student Affairs and Industry Outreach / 804-827-8874 direct / 103 S. Jefferson Street, Richmond, VA 23284

Highlights from the Maker Generation

Last month, I was in Richmond, Virginia for the recruiting session at the VCU Brandcenter. I saw a ton of books – copywriters, art directors, and creative technologists. I continue to be amazed by the Maker Generation. When I graduated VCU forever ago, I left with a suitcase-shaped black portfolio full of double-page magazine spec ads that had been trimmed with an X-acto blade and spray mounted to black mounting boards. But today, if students have an idea, they go make it. Here are three examples from the VCU Brandcenter recruiting session that stuck with me (shown with permission).  

banethatcher.com

After Margaret Thatcher died, Maddison Bradley and Jon Robbins were listening to some of her quotes and thought, “These sound like the kind of things Bane would say.” So they created banethatcher.com. I don’t know British Conservative politics of the mid-1980’s well enough to comment, but I’m amazed that they pulled this together in a couple of days.

Harry Potter Ipsum

When Olivia Abtahi and Christina Chern needed some lorem ipsum, they thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if this weren’t just gibberish, but Harry Potter gibberish?” So they created Harry Potter Ipsum. Feel free to accio your own text on their joint Most Auspicious.

Dragon Grips

Sam Cantor, Nick Marx, and Hunter Pechin didn’t just go to portfolio school to make spec ads. They came up with Dragon Grips, an actual, functioning product. (That just happens to be surrounded with some well-thought-out marketing.)


“People’s Choice Award” Winner: DragonGrips from Nick on Vimeo.

How I Judge A Book

Jim and I were just at the VCU Brandcenter portfolio review. As usually, there was some very impressive work on display. By my count, I looked at 22 art directors, 22 copywriters, and 10 creative technologists. Some were good. A few were great. All made me feel I’m glad I graduated when I did, because this generation is a lot more competitive than mine was.

Let me explain why.

When I look at a student book, I typically look for two things:

1. Craft. Can the writer write? Is the art director a real art director, or just an ad director who knows Photoshop. Craft shows passion, and it’s easy to see who has it.

2. Thinking. Is the strategy smart? Or self-indulgent?

But now there’s a third thing I look for:

3. Jealousy.

Let me explain.

When I left school, I had double-page magazine spreads spray-mounted to black boards. That was it. And we all got jobs based on how good those spray-mounted ideas were.

But this is the Maker Generation. If you have an idea for an app, a website, a product, some kind of technology, chances are, you can go out and physically make it. Or at least have it made. And I’m pretty jealous of that.

So if you’re putting your book together and you have an idea for an app, don’t just mock up what the program would look like on your iPad, go make it. That’s what a lot of the students at the VCU Brandcenter were doing. And it was pretty inspiring.

Words from Sally Hogshead

I came across a post today with lots of great advice from Sally Hogshead. The list originally appeared in Nancy Vonk’s and Janet Kestin’s Pick Me, but I’ll link to the blog I found it on.

Advice from Sally:

1. There are no right answers, including these.
2. The hipster creative with tattoos and piercings rarely does the coolest ads.
3. Dominos delivers to Starbucks.
4. Smart beats clever.
5. You’ll create a better book by breaking the rules than by following them.
6. Spend more time thinking, less time executing.
7…read more